Wide Awake: The Day Before My Birthday
When I almost died, but didn’t
By Marianne Aleardi

My birthday falls in this month, but I actually consider the day before my birthday as a bit more special. Fifteen years ago on that day, you could say my life was re-started.   

On a beautiful spring morning in March, I was driving on Route 130 to meet a friend for lunch when a small truck hit my SUV from behind. It turned my car sideways, and the hit was hard enough that I caught up to the moving traffic ahead of me. I hit one of those cars, and my SUV started rolling backward. My SUV rolled several times and landed upside down.  

So yeah, March 19 is the day I almost died. The day I believed for about two whole minutes that I was seconds away from my life ending.  

But its also the day I didnt die. So while it took me a long time to feel this way, it has come to be a day worth celebrating, or at least a day worth recognizing.  

Even though it is 15 years later, I can still run through every thought I had the moment I was hit, and I especially remember what my mind was screaming in my head as the car was rolling. I can feel it. I remember the strong desire to stay alive. I remember thinking I didnt want my daughters to lose their mom when they were 4, 6 and 8. That was a really painful thought. Sometimes when I hear of a mother killed in a car accident, I wonder if those were her last thoughts. Its sickening. 

I also remember when the car stopped, and I was hanging upside down. I had this strong feeling that no matter what I had to do, I would be able to get out of the car. When I released the seatbelt and fell to the ground (which was actually the roof of the car), I fell onto a million pieces of glass. I crawled to the passenger window and climbed out, discovering later how many cuts I had on my hands.  

I remember saying over and over, I have to call my husband. Do you have a phone?” “Does anyone have a phone?” “I need to call my husband. 

There were three men standing at my car when I crawled out. I remember seeing their sneakers as I was moving in their direction. One of them leaned toward me and whispered, You must have had an angel with you. 

And whats really weird: A few weeks after the accident, when I couldnt get the replay of those two minutes out of my head, I remembered feeling like there was all this space around me, and that space kept me protected. Its hard to describe, but it was like there was a shield encircling me – a force, I dont know – whatever it was, it kept me from getting hurt. I cant explain it, and I dont understand it, but it was there.  

And while I didnt have many physical injuries, the emotional injuries were impactful and long-lasting. I couldnt sleep because I had nightmares of being in the car with Joe and the girls, and awful things would happen. I remember telling Joe I didnt want to go to bed because my mind would haunt me. 

Turns out, Im not one of those people who think, I escaped death. Im going to live life to the fullest now.” Instead, I thought, I could die at any minute, and so could everyone I love. Lets all go inside, lock the door, and never come out. 

It took a long time for that to go away, thanks to a therapist and the realization that my kids shouldnt live that way. Those thoughts do come back, though, because the idea is true, and every now and then, something happens to remind me. But I go back to what I decided years ago: that I would choose to dwell on the good things in life, and not the bad. Its the only way Ive found to get rid of the desire to go back inside the house and lock the door.  

Im always amazed when I think about the accident – like, say, when Im writing about it for this column – how strong the feelings and memories are. How deep the dread can feel. How the sick feeling in my stomach easily returns. And I cant make that stop just by being grateful that I survived, which might surprise people.  

The only thing that makes those feelings go away is to stop writing the column. Go fill my brain with other thoughts. Then, eventually, its gone. And I live my life. 

March 2019
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